Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

No One Heard the Scream (1973)

SEPTEMBER 7, 2021

GENRE: THRILLER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

The back of Severin's Blu-ray release of No One Heard the Scream (Spanish: Nadie oyó gritar) refers to it as a Spanish giallo, but I feel this is misleading and almost doing it a disservice. Not that I blame the company; it's a hard movie to sum up with a genre label. It certainly starts like a giallo, with our beautiful heroine seeing someone disposing a body and becoming the killer's target, but then it keeps surprising until the very end, going from kidnapping thriller to road movie to something approaching one of those kind of sad romantic dramas about two broken people coming together - I was not expecting to think about As Good As It Gets, but bless this odd little delight of a film, I did.

Not that I'd mind if it was just a standard giallo; it's been a minute since I've watched one and thus I'm due for a fix. I try to space out my viewings of such fare since they tend to run together in my mind, so letting them seep in my brain a little before taking in another seems a good way to keep them straight. But once it became clear that this wasn't going to have a huge body count, I allowed myself to enjoy what it actually was, with the added bonus of knowing I could go find a more traditional one today without overload.

And I shouldn't be surprised, since the film comes from Eloy de la Iglesia, who also directed Cannibal Man (itself recently reissued on Blu-ray from Severin), another film that sounds like one kind of thing on paper but ends up being more interesting/unique than a quickie description would let on. Again, things start off pretty standard here, with Elisa (Carmen Sevilla) seeing Miguel (Vicente Parra, the "Cannibal Man" himself) trying to dump a body in their apartment building, prompting the man to chase her back to her apartment and threaten her. But things swerve pretty quickly; instead of killing her to ensure her silence, he demands she help him dispose the body elsewhere, making her an accomplice that would be in just as much trouble. No, it's not particularly logical, but it's a "good enough" excuse for the two of them to pair off instead of chasing each other for 90 minutes.

No kidnapping/body in the car type scenario is complete without nosy police, and de la Iglesia offers an all timer incarnation of the scene, as they drive past a major bus accident and the cops force them to take a few of the injured to the hospital (it's a small village and they don't have enough ambulances to do it). So they need Miguel to put his suitcase in the trunk instead of the backseat so the injured can sit there, but naturally the trunk is where the body is - it's a terrific little nailbiter, one of those fun ones where you're not sure if you want the cops to find the body or not as we've already started sympathizing with the guy in a way.

See, it turns out his wife was a horrible nag and (by 1970s euro thriller standards, I stress) "had it coming", something Elisa seems to understand if not totally agree with. Partly because she too is seeing how empty her life has become, as she is seemingly... well, not quite a prostitute, but makes her living by occasionally spending weekends with wealthy men. In fact she was supposed to be with one such "lover" at the time she encountered Miguel, but changed her mind and broke off the arrangement with the man, having tired of the lack of passion and genuine concern - she wants a real man! Can it be... this dude who slapped her around a bit and made her help him clean his wife's blood off the elevator? Stranger things have happened in these movies!

Things get a little more tense due to the arrival of one of her younger lovers later, and the end provides a legitimately good twist that will make the movie interesting to see on a second view now that we have a key bit of information about one of our two leads, but the movie is ultimately a two hander about these two lonely/broken people getting their groove back, so to speak. I'm sure it'd fall victim to "Film Twitter" types who have gotten it in their head that filmmakers always defend and support the actions of their main characters, but for those of us who aren't near-sighted morons it's a pretty compelling take on this sort of fare, as your always torn between wanting them to find their peace but also, you know, not get away with seemingly unjustified murder (the fact that we don't actually see it helps).

Apart from noting how lovely the score is (from Fernando García Morcillo, another Cannibal Man returnee; you can listen to the opening credits theme yourself below since I couldn't find a trailer), there's not much else I can say - it's a movie that lives on its performances and how the plot zigs when you expect it to zag, so going on any more would rob you of its pleasures. Again, it may not satisfy you if you want a black gloved killer offing the cast, but if you just want, you know, a GOOD MOVIE, then you should give it a look, especially if you're familiar with Cannibal Man and thus are already accustomed to (and appreciative of) de la Iglesia's seeming disinterest in status quo.

What say you?

P.S. The movie is in Spanish with English subs, but they are specifically *subtitles*, not closed captions, and there are occasional lines in English when she goes to London to see her lover. Just an FYI if you, like me, have to often watch with low volume and count on captions!

PLEASE, GO ON...

Blu-ray Review: The Brotherhood of Satan (1971)

SEPTEMBER 5, 2021

GENRE: CULT
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

My memory is getting better! Well, maybe not. See, when I requested a review copy of The Brotherhood of Satan from Arrow, it was because I was sure I hadn't seen it and it sounded up my alley. But when I popped the disc in, something about the first scene triggered deja vu, so I did what I should have done in the first place and checked to see if I had indeed seen it, discovering that I had and wrote a review, not even eight years ago (it was actually a post-daily selection! You'd think I'd be able to remember those better!). Want a kicker? Not only did the scene not turn out to be the one from the movie I was thinking of (turned out to be the opening of Hell High, where the girl accidentally kills a pair of teen lovers), but nothing else in the movie really rang a bell.

On the plus side, that's great, because it was like seeing it for the first time, and it's like, really good. Better than my original review lets on, in fact! It's the kind of '70s horror I really love, where on the surface it seems like any other B movie that probably played second at the drive-ins (indeed, per the IMDb, it played with THX-1138), but has that little extra pep in its step that gives it more personality and helps it stick with you. I originally noted director Bernard McEveety's "matter of fact" approach to his job, but failed to note one of its key examples (minor spoiler for 50 year old movie ahead), that the movie's villain is identified relatively early but then returns to act as an ally to our heroes, without the sort of squinty faced/raised eyebrow/dun dun DUNNNNN kind of music that usually accompany such things. If you missed the in between scene where he was clearly established as the villain, there is nothing to point to his true nature in the later scene, which is kind of chilling in a way.

Also, I want to point this scene out for another reason. If you've seen the movie, it's the one where the priest, the doctor, the dad, the sheriff, and the deputy are all in the sheriff's house trying to figure out what to do next. McEveety lets most of the five-ish minute scene play out in a master, with lots of cross talk and all five men in the frame doing something. It was probably a time/money saving measure, but the actors had to all be in sync with their blocking and dialogue to make sure it didn't turn chaotic, something that couldn't happen if the director just stuck a camera in the corner and called "action" on five amateur performers. It's legitimately impressive filmmaking from a technical/logistics point of view, something you don't often find in these sort of things (indeed, as I noted before, the plot setup is very much like that of Manos, a film without one impressive technical aspect).

It also doesn't spell out what is happening right away, and even though it came before things like Texas Chain Saw Massacre, will "mislead" a new audience a few times before it shows its full hand. Things start off with a family driving through the southwest and seeing the aftermath of a grisly accident, only to be accosted by locals when they try to report it. So it seems like a "run afoul of a creepy town" movie, but later we learn what's got the townsfolk riled up, and realize that they're actually innocent. And due to the likely impossibility of the FX it would need to pull off, it's not until we've seen a few deaths that it becomes clear that (spoiler again) it's the toys doing it. Later developments almost give it an Under the Dome type feel, so I can't help but wonder if Stephen King is a fan (or at least saw it and subconsciously got inspired by it).

If he was, I wish he was on the disc, because they seemingly had trouble locating anyone of note to contribute an interview or a commentary. There is an interview with two of the kids, but as it's been fifty years and they were, you know, children, you'd be a fool to think their memories are either that strong or plentiful - they seem to remember having fun and getting to eat as much cake as they wanted during the filming of the party scene, and one of them remembers playing spin the bottle with the others, but the other one doesn't. I guess I can appreciate that it's a fairly brief interview instead of a commentary?

There IS a commentary by Kim Newman and Sean Hogan though, and it is as entertaining as the film. They're fans but do not consider it an unassailable masterpiece, so the track is mostly them kind of giggling at some of its wackier elements (like the cult leader's robe) while pointing out how it fits into the larger cult/devil movie canon, particularly the pre-Exorcist ones that weren't so beholden to more traditional religious iconography (indeed, the priest here is ultimately kind of useless). And there's even more of that history to glean from the video essay by David Flint, as well as the included booklet which devotes one of its two essays to the sub-genre (pre and post-Exorcist). The other is about producer/writer/co-star L.Q. Jones, a Peckinpah regular who apparently also wrote a tie-in novel for this film! Adding it to my wishlist ASAP.

I often wonder how I'd feel about this or that movie from HMAD past that I can now no longer remember much about (even some of the ones in my book, now written six years ago about movies I watched as many years ago then, trigger "Wait, what was that one about?" kind of reactions). How many other gems like this are out there, forgotten and/or written off in my head as decent timekillers at best? I am cursed with generally seeing little reason to revisit a non-favorite film unless I plan to write about it (my stance is that it's time being taken away from watching something new), which means if I remembered seeing Brotherhood I probably would have shrugged off this Arrow release with a "Seen it, eh, nothing special" kind of reaction. My tastes change, my mood may differ... there's any number of reasons that I could be much more endeared with something that was essentially site filler when I take another look at it a decade (give or take) down the road. At any rate, while I usually curse my poor memory, this is one time that it worked in my favor.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Candyman (2021)

AUGUST 27, 2021

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

In a perfect world, Nia DaCosta and Jordan Peele would have been the ones to have the genius idea to change Candyman to a vengeful murdered slave (for non readers, Bernard Rose's film is basically pretty faithful to Barker's story "The Forbidden", but in there Candyman was a white guy and there was next to nothing about race involved or even implied), in a new adaptation/remake where this new approach allowed it to exist on its own without the legacy of the older film being a factor. Instead, they're making a sequel, also named Candyman (I guess this is how followups are gonna be titled now? Thanks a lot, Halloween), adding their different perspective on Black issues after much of the character's history has already been explored. And when it works, it works incredibly well - but the keyword there is "when".

One of my key issues requires me to note something that is apparently a bit of a spoiler with regards to its main character of Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), so be warned. If you're still here, and you're someone who has seen the 1992 Candyman a few times or even once recently, recently, you might recognize that name, Anthony, because that's the name of the baby who Candyman kidnapped and was rescued by Helen Lyle in the film's climax. And anyone with more than a passing familiarity with the film will likely remember hearing the child's mother, played by Vanessa Williams, screaming it over and over again. Thanks to this film having opening credits with Williams' name right there, and Anthony repeatedly dodging calls from his mother, it shouldn't take more than a handful of brain cells to make the connection: Yahya's character is indeed that grown up baby, and Williams is back as his mom.

But for some puzzling reason, the movie treats this like a reveal with only about 25 minutes left in its runtime (during the one scene with Williams, making her up front credit practically something of a spoiler itself). Until then, even with Helen Lyle (represented by photos of Virginia Madsen) being established, it mostly acts more like a remake - complete with a different identity for "The Candyman", the urban legend about a guy who gave out candy to kids but was hunted down by the cops when a piece showed up with a razor blade in it. This idea was alluded to in the original, but everything we are seeing about it conflicts with what we learned in the 1992 movie, making it feel like a total do-over, and in turn the sequel reveal practically comes off as a cheat. As a result, dealing with everything about this character (named Sherman Fields) AND the one we're familiar with (Daniel Robitaille is brought up, though the other reveals from Farewell to the Flesh are ignored - the new team just liked the name I guess), plus the resolution of THIS story all happens in a third act whirlwhind, making it feel like the movie is on fast forward after what was a well structured first hour or so.

Well, mostly well structured. There are a couple of scenes - in particular an attack on a group of high school girls - that don't trigger any alarms at the time, but then the movie reaches its conclusion and you realize that it had no payoff or connection to anything. Did that sequence get butts in seats, since it was heavily featured in the trailer? Most likely, but considering the movie's weighty themes (Black Lives Matter key among them, as both the Fields character and one of our heroes are the victims of racist cops) such exploitation is somewhat ill-fitting. Even if there WAS some kind of payoff it'd feel disconnected (we only briefly met one girl prior, and in a different context; I saw someone noting they didn't even realize it was the same girl), but given how suspicion for the murders eventually lands on Anthony and there are witnesses to his whereabouts at the time, the event is never mentioned again, as if to avoid gummying up the works.

But that could have been great to explore! The cops wouldn't have given a shit if Anthony was on live TV at the time if they wanted him to be their killer just to have a convenient story (a Black man killing five white girls), and it's a shame that they opt to use the sequence for little more than "let's get another kill in here" purposes, as if this was indeed the generic slasher some (including 12 year old me) expected from the original film. I don't want to use the term "window dressing", but something in that ballpark is how some of the film's scenes end up feeling, as it has to function as both "Candyman 4" but also continue the tradition of past Monkeypaw films (Get Out and Us, but also BlacKkKlansman). Those films were free of franchise constraints, something I feel occasionally holds this one back in ways, as DaCosta never fully marries the two. When it's a racially-charged horror movie about how we create boogeymen to forgive ourselves for looking the other way at injustices, it's terrific, but it has to keep going back to being a Candyman movie, seemingly begrudgingly. It's a weird comparison, but I kept thinking of Alien: Covenant, and how Ridley Scott was clearly more interested in the new story of David and Walter, but had to keep tossing in xenomorph scenes to satisfy audiences (or worried producers) and muddying up the waters.

That said, being the fourth entry can help you appreciate that it's the first one to offer anything but a dull white woman as its protagonist (Madsen's performance was fine, she just had to play a stock character). DaCosta wisely opts to split lead character duties between Anthony and his girlfriend Brianna (the always delightful Teyonah Parris, who stole WandaVision away from her MCU legacy co-stars); the former is an artist struggling with a bit of a block, with the Candyman story unleashing his imagination and having him look around the old Cabini Green grounds, while the latter is an art gallery director on the rise. As Anthony becomes obsessed with the Candyman story (he even digs up the unfinished research of Helen Lyle, though in keeping with waiting forever to reveal his past, he somehow doesn't ever see his own mother's name in the news clippings or online articles about the woman who is famous for having "kidnapped" him) Brianna discovers her career upswing is perhaps not due to her own talents but her connection to tabloid fodder, leaving her to question if her relationship with Anthony is a liability or a benefit. And eventually Anthony is kind of sidelined; he is stung by a bee and the pus/raw skin from the bite starts spreading across his body, which along with his increasingly fractured mental state allows Brianna to take center stage as she tries to figure out what is wrong with him and if his stories of the Candyman are true after all.

So basically it feels like a Fly kind of movie, where Anthony is turning into *a* Candyman and Brianna is torn between being frightened by him and wanting to help him. The idea of someone gradually turning into the familiar Candyman figure is an intriguing one, to the extent that I wish it really was just a remake so they could go full force with it instead of coming up with the idea and then reverse engineering how it plays out in order to tie everything back to the original mythos. With Tony Todd as the only Candyman in the previous films (and with him being long dead by the time we met him), the idea of someone being transitioned into the guy we recognize from our Movie Maniacs action figures is something that obviously wouldn't have worked before, so we can't say it's "breaking the rules" (and we did kind of see how Helen became something along those lines), but there's only so far they can go with it when they've established that it's the same canon.

Where it truly shines is in the little moments that speak to the Black experience, something white guys like me can't ever fully understand but can at least appreciate when seeing them happen to the protagonist we're otherwise identifying with. There's a great little moment where Anthony flinches from a cop car despite not doing anything wrong, and an old timer who runs the local laundromat offers the movie's most stinging points about police and the general idea of why we have "boogeymen" characters. It's got occasional bits of humor, mostly courtesy of Brianna (a simple "nope" when confronted with possibly entering a dark basement is an all timer delivery) and her brother Troy, who acts as a voice of reason throughout. He's also the one to introduce the Candyman story in the first place, and if you're familiar enough with the original to remember exactly what Helen did and didn't do, hearing the urban legend about her is not just amusing in its own right, but also offers us a rare occasion where the time passing between entries can be helpful. It's been nearly 30 years since the original film's events, so you quickly get the idea of how a true story can evolve into nonsensical fiction over time as the legend is told and retold by people who weren't there or (certainly in Troy's case) even alive at the time. It's possible someone sitting there who hasn't seen the original film since opening night in 1992 can accept this version (in which Helen runs into the fire with the baby) as what they saw back then, because who can remember details after 30 years?

Those folks will also likely be surprised at Anthony's past, making them (or newcomers entirely) perhaps the ideal audience for the film. Hardcore fans of the series (if any exist for the other sequels) will likely be disappointed by the lack of Tony Todd's presence, but that wasn't a dealbreaker for me - the Sherman Fields character was creepy enough in his own right, as was Anthony's surprise entry into body horror territory. However, the attempt at bridging a sequel and a remake didn't fully work for me; I was too far ahead of the characters to be satisfied with how it worked as, essentially, Candyman 4, but it's those elements were also keeping the movie from fully coming to life as the standalone thing it occasionally seemed to desperately want to be. And by trying to work in so many ideas (police brutality, the effects of gentrification, how people deal with childhood trauma, etc) in a film that has to both function as a reintroduction AND a followup to a classic horror film, it comes off as a bit too crammed and rushed, as if they planned a six episode miniseries and had to turn it into a 90 minute movie instead. It gives you a lot to chew on for sure, but I think I would have walked out more satisfied if DaCosta and crew picked one or two of those ideas and really ran with it/them, instead of overloading with everything and robbing of it of some of its impact as a result. I've been trying to make this review sound less negative (I gave it 3 stars, which by my ratings "code" means it's an enjoyable/average movie), but I just can't get around the fact that a pretty good movie will always seem like a disappointment when it flirts with greatness. I'll probably like it more a second time around when I know it's got some nagging problems - at least it's short enough for a revisit to be more likely.

What say you?

P.S. I hope Clive Barker has a sense of humor about how he is represented in the film; there's a douchey sex predator named Clive and a villain character is seen reading Weave World. Yeesh!

PLEASE, GO ON...

From The Pile: Fangs Of The Living Dead (1969)

AUGUST 25, 2021

GENRE: VAMPIRE
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

The title seemed familiar, so I checked twice to make sure I hadn't already seen/reviewed Fangs of the Living Dead (aka Malenka) on the site before I opened the still wrapped disc from the endless "Pile" (now an overfilled box) with the intent of watching it, reviewing it, and - unless it was great - sending it to the *other* box, the one full of discs that are waiting to be traded in on a literal rainy day*. "I don't want to have another Killer Nun situation on my hands," I thought, before starting the film and discovering that it actually starred the Nun herself, Anita Ekberg. I found that pretty amusing.

Most things are more amusing than the film, as it turns out, as it's pretty much a total snooze. It was the first horror film for Amando de Ossorio, who found success a few years later with the Tombs of the Blind Dead films but hadn't quite found his groove yet (some would argue he never did; his name is certainly not one that inspires me to watch his entire filmography), though he's not entirely to blame for the film's lapses. Apparently no one could decide whether to make a fully serious horror movie or a lighthearted one with comedy akin to the recent (and successful) Fearless Vampire Killers, but even if they did settle that before shooting began, de Ossorio is no Polanski, so I don't think that switcheroo was the only reason the movie doesn't really work.

It's also far too chaste compared to what else we had at the time; it's nearly bloodless, the women don't show off a lot of skin (forget about actual nudity), and the ending can't even bring itself to kill off the hero's horny pal - a character who seemingly only exists to be pointy teeth fodder. Nothing wrong with dialing things back and aiming for a more atmospheric and suspenseful take on the subject matter (which is more or less just Dracula), but de Ossorio isn't exactly delivering on those fronts either, so it's just kind of sitting there like a wet fart for large chunks of its runtime. The only time it really comes to life is in the last half hour, when the town's doctor (Carlos Casaravilla) takes a more active role in the proceedings as a sort of Van Helsing type, but one who has looked the other way on the vampire villain's evil deeds.

As for the villains, well... their whole story doesn't make any sense really, as part of the plot reveal (spoiler for 50+ year old movie ahead) is that they're not actually vampires, though the main one's demise is straight up vampire stuff. So were they lying about lying about being vampires? And why wait until the end of the movie to tell us this when nothing much has happened? Do it earlier and then spring something more interesting on us for the finale instead of an endless scene of the guy's body turning into a husk after being staked. To be fair though, there's another ending where that doesn't happen, and it's presented on the disc as a bonus feature, but it's in the original Spanish language so his not-dying monologue is a mystery to my ears. That ending also gives everyone a happy ending, except for perhaps the hero's buddy, who is now a vampire himself (huh?) and sends us off while comically chasing after a frightened woman. Hilarious!

Honestly the highlight of the disc is the commentary by Troy Howarth, who thankfully doesn't think too much of the movie himself and spares us 90 minutes of defending it. Instead he runs through the filmographies and careers of its players as you'd expect, but also gives some interesting historical background on Spain at the time, operating under Generalissimo Francisco Franco (at that time, *not* dead), as this was one of the first horror films produced by the country. He also notes a few interesting tidbits, such as the fact that a character's name of Vladis was NOT a little nod to Vlad the Impaler, as I assumed while watching, as the connection between Vlad and Dracula was not introduced until a few years later. That sort of stuff is why I always listen to the historian tracks even if I don't like the movie; might as well learn something rather than write the whole thing off as a loss.

But hey, sometimes the discs from the pile end up being worth keeping, which doesn't help me in my never-ending attempt to pare the collection down. I have no desire to keep this one, so thanks for kind of sucking, movie! That's a quarter inch of horizontal space I don't have to find on the permanent shelf!

What say you?

*I started taking walks on my lunch break in an attempt to shed a few pandemic pounds, so that eats up the time I have to go across town and give the box to some weird dude at a CD/movie store and come up with some random amount of cash to give me for it. But if it rains? I will stay dry, and RAKE IN THAT TRADE-IN CASH!

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Night House (2020)

AUGUST 20, 2021

GENRE: GHOST
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

There is a moment in The Night House that shook me to my core, but it wasn't a particularly scary moment. No, it's a bit where Beth (Rebecca Hall) is having a dream that her dead husband is texting her, and when she looks at the message, we can see that there are other, older ones (from when he was presumably alive), unlike most movies where a new text is the only time this person apparently ever texted their loved one. Then, they double down on the surprises - when she wakes up and checks to see if the text was real, her phone is plugged in! Movie characters are always just leaving their phone right there next to them, unplugged, because these people never have to worry about a dead battery I guess. But Beth does!

Granted this is just me clapping for a weird pet peeve, but it does tie into one of the things that makes the movie work as well as it does: it feels very natural and our protagonist is relatable, allowing the ghost-y stuff to really get under your skin. Having just lost her husband to suicide, Beth's grief is manifesting in many ways: she drinks, she watches their home videos, she packs up his toiletries to toss them, and she ultimately starts going through his personal things trying to find answers for why he suddenly took his own life. And (thanks in part to Hall's terrific performance) we understand perfectly that, even though we never met her prior to this tragedy, this is all unusual behavior for her, and also that he was her "rock" despite never having seen them together. It's a balancing act that the script and director David Bruckner (and again, Hall) walk expertly.

It's also surprisingly funny at times. There's another great scene where Beth (a teacher) is confronted by a parent of a student who got a C in class, and while she's trying to be delicate at first and chalk her recent absence (in the mom's eyes, the reason for the lower grade) to "a personal matter", the mom keeps harping on it, so Beth just trys the blunt approach and tells her, mid-sentence, that he blew his brains out. Dark as it is, the woman's stunned reaction is a hilarious bit of comedy, and there are other moments like it throughout the film, even as Beth's grief enters the anger portion and she confronts one of the women she finds photos of in her husband's phone.

I can't get too much into that because spoilers, but I will say that part of the mystery involves these women, all of whom somewhat resemble Beth and may be connected to a mirrored version of their house that he has built across the lake from theirs. His suicide note was a cryptic message about Beth being safe now, and we learn that she once died for a few minutes after an accident before being revived, and if you think all of these things might be connected, you'd be correct, though exactly what is something Bruckner and co. thankfully do not feel the need to spell out with dialogue, trusting the audience to piece it together on their own. It's not a puzzler by any means; it was just refreshingly free of hand holding. With Hall being in just about every frame of the film (I think the final scene is the only time we ever see anything from anyone else's perspective) and often alone except for the possible ghost, it would mean a lot of talking to herself to convey exposition in a more traditional (read: dumbed down) manner, and I was pleasantly surprised to see they trusted their audience enough to not do that.

It's also light on traditional scares, something that will likely annoy any younger audiences who were hooked in by the trailer (which shows almost all of them), as they probably won't be able to connect to the drama either (though maybe they will in Covid times? Possible they've lost someone close recently). At times you feel the creative team would rather just focus on Hall working through it than deal with the haunting element, which is fine by me since I don't really get scared anyway, but I feel I should say it as a bit of a warning for anyone who might be heading out for some good ol fashioned "let's go scream together with a big crowd" horror movie viewing. Not only will the crowd be small and muted, but blah blah blah Delta, etc (you've heard it all by now), so if you want to wait for home, I would only sigh with how it relates to the theatrical success of a solid, ORIGINAL horror movie. As a human, and movie fan in general, I'll admit this one might actually work better at home anyway, even without the health risks being a factor.

I know this is a relatively short review for me, but that's part of what makes the movie work: its simplicity. Yes, Beth finds out things about her husband that ultimately has her looking at weird old books and even taking a mini road trip for info, but it never gets bogged down in this stuff; her working through it is the driving force, and unless you want multiple paragraphs about praising Hall's performance, there isn't much to write about without diluting the experience (I can also vouch for the score by Lovett, quite good!). If you were a fan of (HMAD book recommendations*!) Absentia, The Eclipse and/or The Presence, I think you'll enjoy this, and if you found them "boring" or whatever, then there isn't going to be much here to change your mind, though I still encourage you to see for yourself when you feel comfortable doing so. At the very least, it might give jealous spouses a reason to not be so quick to fear the worst when they see their partner looking at other men/women!

What say you?

*I was gonna just write a note here but made it a whole ass post instead of burying it in a review for a movie apparently few have seen. Click here for something cool re: my book!

PLEASE, GO ON...

HMAD Has Gone Global!

Since my email address is public, I get a lot of weird (often automated) offers for ad space, running sponsored content, etc., all of which I ignore. Yes, it would be nice if HMAD was an actual revenue source, but if it means clogging up the site with things that aren't reviews, I'm not interested - I'd rather you guys got the same "clean" experience you've had for almost 15 years now (Christ...).

But a while back I got one inquiry that did warrant a little more attention: a representative from a Japanese publishing company who wanted to have the HMAD book translated and published under their label. Exciting enough on its own, but even better: I wouldn't have to do anything besides provide them with the original files, which are naturally still sitting in the same folder on my desktop, five years later. I send them that stuff, sign a tax form or two, and then several months later (covid stretched it out, of course) I got a little check for the privelege. It is the easiest job I've ever had.

And now it's out! They sent me a few copies as a complimentary gesture, and I gotta say: it's actually better designed than the real one (which was designed by me, not a professional). Not only is it smaller, but each entry has a thumbnail graphic of the poster, so something can catch your eye when flipping through each month (which are also given that little black square on the right side of the page so you can flip right to a particular month if you want, kind of like how a dictionary breaks down the lettters). And the index is far more robust than mine, noting not just the 366 titles but also movies that are mentioned at all! Apparently I mentioned Waterworld once, and now if you want to know why/where, they got you covered.

Of course you need to be able to read Japanese, something I can't do. In fact the only thing I'm still not sure on is the translation itself. I used an app to scan some certain parts (like, obviously, the Cathy's Curse entry) and it's definitely close enough to what I'm saying, though those differences I can't tell if they are a limitation of the app or the translator not being able to come up with something that would work in a different language. They did email at one point asking for clarification for a few things, mostly just a few examples of my own bizarre sense of humor not really coming across, but it's possible there are many more that didn't trigger anything. Long story short, I hope I don't unintentionally insult any Japanese readers by using a word or phrase that means something very different to them, or even simply confuse them with one of my lengthy asides that not only is unrelated to the movie, but also may have no significance to them in their country.

So if you, or someone you know is interested, you can head HERE for Takeshobo's official page for the book, which has links to buy it through them or other retailers. Not sure if there's a digital version, if that's your preference, but I guess if you can read the page you'll be able to figure it out soon enough. And if you are able to read it, please reach out and tell me how the translation is! I would really feel bad if anything came off as confusing to the reader due to my own less than graceful approach to the written word, especially given how my sense of humor doesn't often translate that well even in English when you can't hear the sarcasm in my voice.

And to everyone who has bought the original English version: thank you again! Something must have put the book on their radar, so anyone who bought a copy only helped get it to that point. You're all in my good graces, even the guy who gave it one star because I'm Irish (?).

Sincerely, ブライアン・W・コリンズ (that's how to write my name, apparently).

PLEASE, GO ON...

Skinned Deep (2004)

AUGUST 17, 2021

GENRE: BREAKDOWN, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

Gun to my head I would have guessed that Skinned Deep was an early '90s movie more or less produced for the VHS market, something that would have gotten coverage in Fangoria during those pre-Scream years where big screen horror was so intermittent that the mag had to noticeably step up its coverage of smaller films (the '80s rarely afforded them the opportunity). But nope, it was actually released in 2004 (by Fangoria, natch) and started shooting in 2000, long after the heyday of both the film's subject matter (Texas Chainsaw-esque demented backwoods killers) and the home video market it was chasing. DVD had taken over by then, as had the video chains over the mom and pop types, leaving these sort of things in the dust as Blockbuster would rather stock another copy of The Ring than devote shelf space to more than one copy of something like this.

No, this was clearly just a labor of love from writer/director Gabe Bartalos, making his debut as a director after years of makeup and FX work. His resume dates back to the mid '80s, and I swear I've seen him on at least a dozen DVD/Blu bonus features over the years thanks to his work on Frank Henenlotter films and Charles Band productions. Needless to say I was curious what kind of film he'd make on his own, and I was happy to discover it wasn't just a bland slasher that gave him an excuse to show off his FX skills every ten minutes, but instead offered a singular vision of a filmmaker who cared about every frame in the film, regardless of whether or not it had anything that would excite gorehounds.

The basic story is nothing new; a family of four is traveling, their car gets a flat, and the nearest place for help is run by murderous weirdos. But there's something "off" about the proceedings that should tell even the most jaded viewer (including me, at first) that this isn't going to be a run of the mill affair. The actors (heroes and villains alike) are all very bizarre and exaggerated, as if they stepped out of a David Lynch music video, and when the killing starts, Bartalos saves the most gruesome death for the young boy of the family, i.e. something most wouldn't dare to do at all. After everyone else in the family is dispatched, the focus falls squarely on the teen daughter, who catches the fancy of Brian aka Brain, so named because... well, he has a giant brain on his head.

Yes, this enters into sci-fi territory, as our villains have seemingly been created by, er, The Creator, a mysterious puppet master we meet later. Brain/Brian is seemingly sympathetic and longs to run naked through Times Square (a vision we see for real; Bartalos obviously didn't have permits and just shot the sequence guerilla style - the actor was subsequently arrested, but they got the shot!). His "brothers" are the more murdery ones, one is called Plates after the sharpened dinnerware he uses as weapons, and the other is the Surgeon General, the machine-mouthed guy on the cover. A few actors played him based on availability and what not (it was a long production, as noted) but Plates is played by Warwick Davis (Bartalos did his makeup for all of the Leprechauns), painted to look like an albino and dropping off kilter line readings into most of his scenes.

Heroine Tina runs afoul of them and other baddies over the course of the film's (slightly overlong) 97 minutes, but they take out others on occasion, like a group of elderly bikers who seek revenge after one of their number is killed trying to help the girl. Bartalos is seemingly well aware that this sort of movie can feel "samey" to the astute horror fans who will undoubtedly make up the majority of his audience (there is zero attempt at making this thing mainstream friendly, I assure you), so he keeps things forever lively by keeping Tina on the run, allowing the production designer enough of a showcase for an entire demo reel. When Tina ends up in a room that is covered ceiling to floor in newspaper, you truly get the sense of how much work went into the movie to keep it engaging. He could have thrown the girl in a typical bland basement room with a few pipes in the background, but instead you get this strange, claustrophobic visual that had to have taken dozens of man hours to put together.

It's that attention to detail that makes the film stand out where it could have been another 90 minute chase flick. Again, yeah, it could have been tightened in spots, and you need to forgive some wonky ADR and the like, but there is almost never a moment in the film where you can't pause it and say "Look at how much work they put into creating this scene", between the complicated makeup (Brain's took four hours to apply, and he's in it quite a bit), crazy set designs, and yes, the gore, which is mostly practical but Bartalos also knew better than to institute a ban on CGI. Any good FX artist knows that utilizing the best of both worlds is the way to get the most ideal results, and so some sneaks in here and there, and only a fool would complain about it.

Severin's blu has two featurettes, one a vintage piece from (I assume) the first DVD release back then, and a new retrospective where Bartalos and a few others answer fan questions. There's also a commentary track with pretty much the same people as the later retrospective, which is kind of annoyingly out of sync with the movie so there are times where Bartalos is saying "OK this shot coming up right..... HERE was (tech talk)" but from context we can tell he is referring to something we saw 15 seconds earlier. But otherwise it's chockfull of production info and anecdotes, with occasional ball-busting and self deprecation, i.e. an ideal track for both fans of the film and also for detractors who assume things like this can just be slapped together in a weekend. Even if you're not down with all of the movie's choices, no one can deny that it is the result of a hard working filmmaker that wanted to put his own spin on classic horror movie material, one who made sure to put every dollar of his (not large!) budget on the screen instead of blowing half of it on a pointless cameo by someone who didn't happen to have a horror convention on his schedule that weekend.

It's sad though, because I kept having the "They don't make em like this anymore" thought for a movie that was only a couple years old when I started doing Horror Movie A Day. I mean yeah it's depressing to think I'm that much older, but in general the idea of anyone doing this sort of thing (on film no less, though there are a handful of well-matched digital shots) is practically unthinkable nowadays. Indie horror exists of course, but the things that find distribution are mostly A24 lite affairs, with gonzo stuff like this being "underground" fare that probably costs less than I spend on electricity every year. It's rare I come across anything that the filmmaker spent years of their life tinkering with to get just the way they liked it, shooting when they could instead of shitting it out over a week and trying to salvage something from what they shot (on their iPhone). Oh, and doing it before he could ask people on the internet to pay for it, reducing their own interest in making sure it got done right. I'm sure those sort of productions still exist, but they don't come across my desk as much as I'd like. Hopefully that'll change.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Don't Breathe 2 (2021)

AUGUST 13, 2021

GENRE: SURVIVAL, THRILLER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

The existence of Don't Breathe 2 is an odd one for many reasons, chiefly that it doesn't even bother to go with the thin premise established at the end of the first one, in which the Blind Man would follow Jane Levy and her sister to California to finish the job. Perhaps Levy couldn't be coaxed to return, or they realized they couldn't fake Los Angeles in Serbia, but either way they opted to do something else. But that they bothered at all is another puzzler; it's been five years, which is an eternity for a budding genre franchise, and before you say "it was delayed because of covid" - nope! They actually shot it last year; it's one of the very few movies to come out in 2021 that wasn't bounced around the schedule.

That said the action skips ahead eight years, so if Levy ever wanted to come back after all, they could go the prequel/midquel route and slot it in that sizable period. This film is pretty standalone; Stephen Lang's Blind Man mentions having lost a daughter but otherwise there's no real connection to the first film even as far as the first film's character goes, let alone its events. As long as you know he's a blind guy who isn't all that great of a human being (i.e. something you can glean from the trailer) you have all the context you need. In fact I actually wondered if they were attempting to retcon some of his lesser qualities or hope that we simply forgot them, but he actually refers to himself as a rapist at one point, which surprised me. He's wisened up from the original! (Where he specifically said he was NOT a rapist as he merely wanted to artificially inseminate someone - the ickiest gray area of all time?)

Anyway, the plot this time is that eight years ago he stumbled on a house fire (burning down from a meth lab explosion) and found a little girl who survived when her family presumably did not. So he takes her under his wing (kidnapping, essentially) and teaches her how to fight, read in Braille, etc. But he also won't let her out of the house much, or play with other kids, or anything like that, so naturally now that she's 12ish she's starting to question her world and how lonely it is. One day she attracts the attention of some lowlifes who may or may not be kidnapping people to take their organs, and so Lang has to spring back into action to protect her. But... does he?

SPOILERS AHEAD!

The wrinkle here is that the head lowlife, Raylan (Brendan Sexton III from Session 9), claims to be her actual father, having NOT died in the fire as we've assumed. The mystery of whether he is lying or not is part of the suspense, and I won't spoil that much here, only to note that the script's attempts at curveballs and misdirection never really pan out. Ultimately, everything happens pretty much exactly how you will probably expect it to, which is kind of a weird thing to be saying about an R rated thriller that dared to make the murderous villain from the first film into an antihero. Rather than lean into the fact that he's bad, they simply make the other people worse (and have him save a dog for good measure), which I found to be kind of a cop out. And it doesn't help that the characterization for the quintet of villains is pretty underwhelming; for this sort of "vigilante gets revenge against scummy dudes" kind of thing it's easy to think about The Crow, and how that film gave each of those guys some color and scene-stealing antics, but you get next to none of that sort of thing here. Two of them are actually brothers and we don't even learn this information until one of them is dead, nor did I manage to catch most of their names.

They also could have really surprised us and just killed The Blind Man off halfway through or something, letting the little girl (Madelyn Grace) to save herself using the survival skills he taught her. Sometimes they come into play, such as the film's highlight sequence (an early long shot in which she evades her would-be captors throughout the house), but for the most part she's gotta wait for Lang to come along and spring her loose from whatever predicament she's currently in. But given her age, we know she's gonna be just fine (same as with the original; we knew Levy would survive because she had to save her little sister from their over-the-top awful home life), so there really isn't much suspense to the proceedings once we know the truth of her parentage.

I was also curious why the script (again by Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, with the latter taking over the director's chair this time) waited so long to move the action from Lang's house to a decaying hotel where the bad guys have set up shop. The trailer made it look like it was an even split, but honestly I think there's only about 25 minutes left of the movie by the time Lang makes his way there. The new locale, and Lang's unfamiliarity with it, could have given the movie more room to play, but with so much of it at his house, it comes off as a retread for far too long, another crippling blow for a suspense film of this type. Apart from the aforementioned long shot sequence, and another bit where Grace has to choose between electrocution, drowning, or capture, there's precious little nailbiter kind of stuff here, which was the original's calling card.

That said it's an easy enough way to burn off 95 minutes (nothing worth risking a theater for though, if you're Delta-phobic or what not). Lang, pushing 70, gives a great physical performance, producer Sam Raimi gets some of his splatter in there (not as much as there seemingly should be though, considering how despicable the villains are), and it thankfully avoids any of the ickiness that dampened the fun of the original (as much as I laughed at the pubic hair sight gag there). I honestly think it'll play better to people who haven't seen the original, but if you were a die hard fan of that one I'm sure you won't mind watching Lang do his thing for another round. Still, if they make a third, I hope they think outside the box a bit; I noted in my review for the original that I would probably never bother watching it again because the suspense factor would be gone, but at times here I felt I was doing just that.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Old (2021)

JULY 24, 2021

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

In retrospect, a string of box office duds may have been the best thing to happen to M. Night Shyamalan. After a couple misfires in a row (regardless of how you or I felt about them; in fact I'm quite fond of After Earth), the filmmaker either found himself unable to get big budgets or simply chose not to pursue them anymore. Either way he went off and made The Visit, which was a big hit (and proved, again, that filmmakers who knew how to make real movies were also better equipped to make found footage ones) and started a healthy relationship with Blumhouse and, by extension, Universal Pictures. Both outfits are known for letting filmmakers do what they want as long as the budgets are kept in check, a godsend for someone like Shyamalan who, as Old repeatedly proves, has idiosyncratic tendencies that either balance out or simply exacerbate certain weaknesses in his screenplays.

Luckily for me, I'm usually on board with such quirks, and was not surprised to discover how much I enjoyed the film, same as I have pretty much everything he's made thus far. I didn't see Last Airbender or his first two, pre-Sixth Sense films, but of his filmography otherwise, I'd slot Lady in the Water as the only one I didn't enjoy on some level; even The Happening (a close second last in that ranking) has plenty of ironic entertainment value ("Cough syrup") and a fairly solid first half. Like Stephen King, the filmmaker tends to whiff some of the early promise on a misguided ending, but while I wouldn't consider Old's denouement a home run, it's thankfully free of the collapses that made Glass and The Village harder to watch a second time when their solid setups ended up having lousy outcomes.

(SPOILERS ARE AHEAD THROUGHOUT THE REVIEW! Consider this an all purpose warning!)

It's possible that having pre-existing material to draw from helped him a little this time around; I've long said that he could benefit from a writing partner that could reign in some (emphasis on some) of his harder-to-swallow tendencies and refine his ideas into something a little less clunky. Here he is adapting a French graphic novel called Sandcastle, and while I haven't read it myself, some internet sleuthing has led me to discover that the basic plot is the same but he added his own ideas, including the ending. But even though he's being "unfaithful" to the text, I think that having it to fall back on and give him a loose road map of how to proceed with the story kept things working more or less smoothly.

By now you've all probably heard the elevator pitch: some people find a beach that ages them rapidly (someone does the math in the movie, and I think they come up with every half hour being about one year in real time) and also can't seem to escape. This gives the film a depressing ticking clock; they're not trying to stop a bomb or anything like that, they're simply trying to come up with a plan to escape while also gradually realizing that their time on this earth is being whittled away and thus maybe it's better to just make the most of what time they have left. Shyamalan isn't shy (sorry) about hitting us over the head with the basic idea of not wishing your life away; in the opening scene the mom (Vicky Krieps) scolds one child for wanting the ride to the resort to go faster ("Just appreciate what you see around you right now!") while also daydreaming of when her daughter will be older and have an even more beautiful singing voice than she does now.

I of course am guilty of the latter; I frequently bemoan my son being too young to enjoy this or that movie, needing assistance with things that require me to get off my lazy ass, etc.* But I also get sad when it's clear he's gotten *too old* for certain things; I packed up some of his Mickey Mouse Clubhouse DVDs the other day and nearly started crying, thinking of all the times he would excitedly dance to the theme song (and encourage me to dance along with him), an activity he's long since outgrown and will be one of many I'll wish to enjoy just one more time when I blink a few more times and watch him go off to college. That whole "live in the present" thing is so hard to keep in mind, so a movie (a horror/thriller no less) revolving around that concept of our time always being taken away from us is very appealing to me, the kind of thing that will allow me to forgive some blemishes.

I say this because, you know, it's an M. Night Shyamalan movie. By now you should know that will mean some strange performances from dependable actors (Ken Leung in particular seemed kind of bewildered at times), kooky dialogue, a distracting cameo by the man himself (luckily it comes pretty early - he's the guy who drives them to the beach), and - yes - a twist that you either have to roll with or let it kill the whole experience. Interestingly, this time around the twist itself is perfectly fine, in fact it's one of his better ones in many ways - but he adds another wrinkle to it that I found unnecessary. I'll have to spoil it to make any sense, so once again I'm going to warn you off, but I will confine it to the next paragraph, so just skip that one if you're here for minor spoilers but don't want the reveal given away.

For those still here, I kind of loved the surprise twist that the people who died on Old Island were in fact specifically targeted to go there due to their various illnesses, as there is a team of scientists and doctors using the island's mysterious aging properties to find cures for all of the world's diseases. It's a trial and error process, but it apparently works - we learn at the end that one of the victims' deaths proved to be the final key in creating a cure for epilepsy. Had the movie ended there, with the knowledge that these people weren't dying in vain, it would be fine, but Shyamalan opts to have it both ways, and let two survivors spill the island's secrets to the police, shutting down their operation. Sure, what they're doing has some serious moral issues, but I think the film would have been even more successful if the filmmaker let us debate about that for ourselves on the way out of the theater, instead of using his lead character to remove any such ambiguity when he "heroically" shuts it all down and prevents cancer or (since it was shot only a year ago) covid from being cured.

But again, these kinds of slip ups aren't rare in his filmography, so you should be prepared for something like that anyway. However, you might be more surprised by how gnarly the film gets at times, with the rapid aging element being used for less obvious highlights as our group of twelve characters spend their awful day at the beach. For example, wounds tend to heal quicker than they should, which means a few basic "someone gets cut and the wound instantly turns to a scar" kind of things, but also broken bones healing quickly despite being in the wrong place, or a surgery to remove a tumor being thwarted by the skin closing itself back up as they reach in to extract it. Shyamalan's films always kind of tiptoe around being full blown horror films, and while this is no exception, I feel it's the first one that enters EC Comics territory when it comes to some of its effects.

Ultimately, in its own strange way, it functions just fine as a simple "Don't wish your life away, appreciate your life and that of your loved ones" message movie. There are some genuinely sad moments in the film, stemming from both the adults finding themselves facing their twilight "years" by nightfall, and from the children who had their entire adolescence stolen from them. When two adult actors decide to make a sandcastle, out of context it seems silly, but in the film's reality, it's a pair of 6 and 10 year old children whose minds haven't developed enough to fully process what has happened to them over the past day. Yes, there are some inconsistencies with the aging (there are four versions of the son, one of whom is played by Hereditary's Alex Wolff, but only three versions of his sister), but again, there's a "just go with it" quality to Shyamalan's output that any moviegoer should be accustomed to after a dozen films. If you're the type to laugh off his work, this one certainly won't change your mind, but for those who have stuck around for the long haul, I hope you'll agree that this is one of his better films, and admirably more personal despite the concept.

What say you?

*I SHIT YOU NOT he interrupted me as I was writing this very sentiment to help him put a game in the Xbox. Basically I want him to age to the point of being able to figure that out for himself but NOT get too old to want to play said game(s) with me.

PLEASE, GO ON...

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